Can You Establish Trusts for Animals When You Pass Away?

How to plan for the care of pets

By Super Lawyers staff

Americans are pet lovers. According to a survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association (APPA), our country collectively spent $72.56 billion on pet care in 2018 alone. For many people, their animals become true members of their family—meaning they should be addressed as part of a comprehensive estate plan.

If you want to make sure that your pet is properly cared for regardless of what happens to you, there are estate planning options available. Indeed, California law allows people to establish animal trusts. In this article, you will find an overview of the key things that you need to know about pet trusts in California.

California Law: Pet Trusts

An animal trust is a specialized type of estate planning vehicle. Under California law, you can leave instructions and funds to provide for the care of an animal. This type of trust will remain active for the rest of your that animal’s life—as long as there are remaining funds held within the trust. To be effective, the person setting up the trust should appoint a trustee who can make sure that your pet is cared for, in accordance with specific instructions outlined in the trust documents.

Three Benefits of Using an Animal Trust to Care for Pets

“If you place them in your will, it won’t work,” says Bruce A. Wagman, an animal law attorney at Riley Safer Holmes & Cancila in San Francisco. “Basically, without the availability and use of the pet trust statute in California, any attempt to provide for your pet will be invalid under the law.”

Some of the key advantages of establishing a pet trust include:

  1. Immediate Effect: First and foremost, a pet trust becomes effective when the pet owner passes away. There is no transition period and, if properly funded, the assets held within the trust are spared from the California probate process.
  2. Controlled Distributions: In California, you can use a pet trust to control the flow of future distributions. This will provide far more financial security for your pet, as you will not be required to rely on anyone’s judgment for controlling your pet’s funds. The money will be better protected from misuse.
  3. Remaining Funds Can Be Controlled: In many cases, pet trusts will have some level of money left over at the end of the animal’s life. The original trust funder can control what will happen to these remaining funds. Funds can be given to another one of your heirs or they can be donated to a charity.

How a California Animal Law Attorney Can Help

It is crucial that setting up a pet’s trust is done the right way—otherwise, the trust may be subject to a legal dispute after your passing. When creating an animal trust, it is best to seek professional guidance.

Wagman, however, says the trusts shouldn’t be difficult for any California estate planning attorney. He himself had one help set up a trust for him and his wife’s three dogs and five cats. “The way our trust is set up, any pet living in the house at the time of our death is covered, and the trust is set up to take care of all of them until their deaths,” he says. “That’s a better way to do it, unless you’re a single pet person. Otherwise, every time you get a new pet, you’ve got to go back to the lawyer and say, ‘Put in Fluffy’s name instead of Rover.’”

If you have any specific questions about setting up a pet trust, an experienced Northern California animal law attorney can help.

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